There has never been a conflict in the course of human history that claimed more lives, devastated more countries, and reached further around the globe than World War II. The conflict is widely regarded as the most devastating conflict in human history and engulfed the vast majority of nations on the planet, calling some 100 million individuals into armed service from 30 different nations around the globe.
While the textbooks sing the praises of the major Allied nations of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union as they defeated the Axis nations of Germany, Italy, and Japan; lost to history at times are the vital roles played by the smaller nations of the world. Seychelles is a perfect example of a tiny nation that played a vital role for the Allies during the conflict.
Although the people of the Seychelles have never officially gone to war as a nation, that doesn’t mean that its people have not made contributions on the world stage when evil and hatred threatened to throw the world out of balance. As a member of the British colonial empire prior to and during World War II, some Seychellois people served in the British Army during the conflict. The most notable contribution of forces came from some 2,000 Seychellois men who served in the Pioneer Companies throughout Egypt, Palestine, and Italy.
But the nation’s greatest impact during the war would come as a result of its global position. Sitting some 900 miles off the eastern coast of Africa, the islands of the Seychelles represent a final leaping off point for forces transiting the Indian Ocean. As the conflict of World War II included large theaters of operation in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region, the Seychelles offered a prime position for Allied and British forces to refuel, refit, and rest as they moved between various theaters of battle.
Throughout the conflict, the British military used Seychelles as a vital Indian Ocean refueling base for its forces, primarily those of the British Royal Navy. Vessels from the Royal Navy and flying boats (also known as seaplanes) used a military facility constructed in the Seychelles to refuel before and after conducting operations throughout the region.
The British military constructed a string of facilities on and around the island of Mahe to support forces in the region. Just off Mahe’s shore on the island of Ste. Anne the British constructed a seaplane depot that refueled and refitted seaplanes that conducted maritime surveillance of shipping lanes in the region.
On the island of Mahe, just north of the capital city of Victoria, the British constructed a battery at Pointe Conan and stationed a garrison of troops therein to oversee operations. The battery served as protection for the vital harbor at Victoria.
To fully understand the importance of the British facilities in Seychelles, it is necessary to understand the strategic positioning of Seychelles in relation to the wider conflict. During the early days of the war, in particular prior to the involvement of the United States, the British Empire stood alone against the might of the German war machine and the advancing Japanese forces in the Pacific.
After the fall of France in the early months of the war, Britain stood alone in Europe to resist Nazi Germany. German forces were located throughout Europe as well as North Africa and the Middle East. British forces from colonial assets in those regions fought fiercely to hold back German forces in North Africa and the Middle East.
As the British Empire at this time also stretched to regions of Indo-China and Australia, the British had to confront the expansion of the Empire of Japan which had been on the war path throughout Asia and the Pacific for a decade prior to the start of World War II. With so many British assets spread out across the world and no assistance, in the early days, to hold back the torrent of evil it was up to Britain to make the most of its colonial positions.
The islands of the Seychelles were ideally located for the British because they were close enough to serve as a launching point for operations, but far enough removed from any direct theater of operations to serve as a safe haven. Nazi German forces were confined largely to the northern portions of the African continent and parts of the Middle East. At times German U-boats patrolled the northern Indian Ocean, but never presented a severe threat to British Royal Navy forces.
This was fortunate for the British Royal Navy because the Japanese Navy was operating in high gear throughout the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Japan had expanded from its island home to conquer Korea, invade China, threaten Australia, and overtake many of the smaller island nations in the Pacific. Here the Japanese clashed with the British Royal Navy, and while the battle never stretched across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, as the British fought to hold on they relied more and more on the outpost in Seychelles.
As the war dragged on, the entrance of the United States helped sway momentum in favor of the Allies. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began a massive island hopping campaign westward from Hawaii, garnering the full attention of the Japanese in the process. In Europe and North Africa, U.S. involvement assisted the British in driving back German forces and the westward drive by the Soviets soaked up a great deal of German resources.
The history books may never make great mention of the role the Seychelles played in the war effort during World War II, without the islands it may have been much tougher if not altogether impossible for Britain to fight effectively throughout the region in the early days of the conflict. While the major players get all the attention and accolades, World War II was a war whose conclusion was dependent upon the actions of players big and small.